- 29 Jan 21
The hotly-tipped newcomer delivers a stunning, 10-star debut.
Last year, a deluge of artists released isolation-themed records. Arlo Parks, by contrast, is steering 2021 in a different direction, on a record that’s driven by the need for connection. This isn’t to say that isolation doesn’t play a pivotal role in Parks’ debut, but it takes second billing.
The title track, which raises the curtain on Collapsed In Sunbeams, is a spoken word meditation. “Collapsed in sunbeams/ Stretched out, open to beauty/ However brief or violent/ I see myself ablaze with joy, sleepy-eyed/ Feeding your cat or slicing artichoke hearts,” she murmurs, setting the scene for a vivid journey.
The 20-year-old poet is unquestionably wise beyond her years, employing lyrically rich phrases to express the darkest emotions. She approaches depression, anxiety, loneliness and jealousy through the back door, with tenderness.
Still, for all Parks’ “amethyst” kisses and “pink and white” voices, Sunbeams is embedded with real world-isms like Nikes, blunts, rice-and-beans and Peckham Rye. Grounded in these tangible instances, the loftier facets of the work are made more universally accessible, even if some references root it specifically in Parks’ birthplace of London.
‘Hurt’ and ‘Black Dog’ – both about watching pain, loss and debilitating depression take hold – are sonic opposites. On the former, Parks sings “Wouldn’t it be lovely to feel something, for once?” over a nu-jazz backdrop, undercutting numbness and frustration with layered horns and clipped percussion. Meanwhile, ‘Black Dog’ pleads urgently with its subject, “Let’s go to the corner store and buy some fruit/ I would do anything to get you out of your room” laid like a blanket over simple acoustic guitar.
Parks is not afraid to examine her own relationships and emotions through these interpersonal interactions. ‘Euguene’ unpacks confusion and jealousy about falling in love with a straight friend, who is in turn falling in love with someone else. ‘Bluish’ is a similarly introspective offering, contemplative but brushed with stinging anger.
The album – a musical mosaic of hip-hop, jazz, pop, and indie rock influences – is partly a portrait of the artist digging into the abundant world around her. There are nods to her heroes: she name-checks Thom Yorke on ‘Too Good’, Robert Smith on ‘Black Dog’ and the album title is a reference to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
But Parks also succeeds in capturing the pathos of herself and her peers. People have called Parks the voice of her generation, but the triumph here is that she is capable of reaching across generational divides. Closing the album with ‘Portra 400’, she sums-up Collapsed In Sunbeams quite effectively: “Making rainbows out of something painful.” Arlo Parks’ debut is a colour study of the human condition: poignant, joyful and everything in between.
• 10/10, out now via Transgressive Records.